Women lawyers group to address relevant issues in monthly events

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 by Cynthia Price

Legal News
The Western Chapter of Women Lawyers of Michigan (WLAM) is starting on its new program year with a strategy to address challenges uniquely faced by female attorneys through its monthly meeting presentations.
Nicole Canute took over as president in June. She practices civil litigation and labor and employment law at Mika Meyers Beckett and Jones. Canute says WLAM would like to expand on some of the issues raised in the recent past at statewide and local functions, and at the same time focus on tactics to help its members reach their career goals.
Lindsay Aten of Varnum, an associate in the firm’s Estate Planning Group and chair of WLAM’s program committee, calls this being a “value-added
organization.” 
Typically, the group holds membership meetings every fourth Wednesday from September to May, though dates may change in order to accommodate speakers. While some of the monthly get-togethers are social in nature, many feature topical speakers, and for the 2010-2011 year those will be related to the theme of the issues confronting women in the legal profession. 
The group’s October membership meeting, to be held on Oct. 28, will focus on “Wage Disparities and How to Address Them.” Jacqueline D. Taylor, Ph.D., of Pondera Advisors, a leadership consulting firm, and Marcy McLoughlin of McLoughlin Communications and Public Relations, will talk about wage negotiations as part of the presentation. Both are on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Women's Foundation.
In scheduling this, the Western Chapter continues where the state WLAM left off at its May conference, when wage disparity was a hot discussion item. There will be area-specific statistics presented at the October meeting as well.
In November, the group will follow up on a topic presented by one of the speakers at the Grand Rapids Bar Diversity Roundtable last year. There is much discussion about how “flex time,” also referred to as alternative work scheduling, can help to retain women lawyers — as well as others who seek a different work/life balance than the traditional one.
The Nov. 18 program, “Alternative Work Schedules and How to Approach Drafting and Implementation” features Marilyn Lankfer and Beverly Holaday, both partners at Varnum LLP, as well as that firm’s Human Resources Director, Carroll Velie.
The group plans to work closely with the GRBA Diversity Committee year-round.
In keeping with the topical theme, WLAM anticipates the February meeting will present the business case for diversity; in March the subject will be business and client development with a focus on the different challenges women face in growing their practices.
Also on the schedule are a number of traditional WLAM events which round out the year. The group’s holiday reception in December allows women lawyers an opportunity to meet area members of the judiciary as well as network with other lawyers.
In April, the membership meeting luncheon coincides with “Bring Your Child to Work Day.” Judges are asked to participate in a trivia game about local women and their accomplishments.
In May WLAM honors a female attorney who has made an outstanding contribution to the local legal scene. In 2010 the honoree was Elizabeth Lykins.
WLAM is perhaps best-known for sponsoring a charity softball game in June that pits women lawyers against judges. Nikole Canute has chaired that committee for the past two years.
Last year the game raised over $13,000 for the YWCA’s Women’s Center.
Canute says that the softball game planning committee sometimes includes women who are not WLAM members, and there is no real correlation between a leadership role on that committee and one on the WLAM board. However, as in Canute’s case, working on the game sometimes results in a desire to get more deeply involved with the organization.
Canute says that she expects the chapter’s  service subcommittee to expand its activities this year; part of the mission of WLAM statewide is “to promote equality and social justice for all people.”  In the past Kids Food Basket and Mel Trotter Ministries have benefited.
Canute’s mentor recommended WLAM to her, and she can attest to the organization’s social benefits. “Since I came to Mika Myers and Grand Rapids in 2005 after living in a small town in Northern Michigan, WLAM has been the organization which has helped me  most. I met several of my closest friends through WLAM.” 
The Western Chapter is not the only WLAM chapter in Grand Rapids area; there is also a student chapter through Thomas M. Cooley Law School, this year chaired by Amanda Narvaes. Says Narvaes, “The WLAM Grand Rapids student chapter offers law students academic programs, social events, volunteer and leadership opportunities, and the chance to network with local attorneys from the WLAM-Western Region. The group also provides a safe place for women law students to talk about the unique challenges we may face as women lawyers.”
On Oct. 2 at noon, Cooley alum Kara Rizon will speak about “Life as a First Year Associate.” On Oct. 14, there will be a Juvenile Law Roundtable Discussion.